This Is the Weekend to Get Right with God
Several years ago, I was in the middle of preaching a sermon, and halfway through the sermon, I noticed that there was a guy who walked in midway through and sat down in the back. I couldn’t help but notice him because he was a big guy. He was a Samoan man, bald head, two gold loop earrings, covered in tattoos. He looked like Mr. Clean (you know on the cleaning bottle) come to life. You couldn’t miss him.
He sits right down in the back. And he crosses his arms, looking really upset to be there. I would try to make a joke in the sermon and he wouldn’t laugh. I thought, “I’m going to meet that guy.”
As soon as I got done preaching, I ran off the stage and in a full-blown sprint ran to the door as he was walking out. I’m all out of breath, and I was like, “Dude, it’s good to have you today.” And I stuck my hand out to shake his hand.
He did not extend his hand. He just kind of glared at me, turned, and walked out of the door. And I thought, “Well, that didn’t go well. I’ll probably never see him again.”
The next Sunday, I’m halfway through my sermon when Mr. Clean walks in, sits down in the back, and crosses his arms. He doesn’t look any happier to be there. So I thought, “I’m going to give him some space.” So, I was out in the lobby and he walks up to me. And he looks at me and he says, “You the preacher?”
And I go, “What tipped you off, Sherlock? Yes, I am.”
And he goes, “I thought so. Hey man, do you pray?”
I’m like, “Yeah, yeah I pray.”
He says, “Well, would you be willing to like pray for me?”
I was totally shocked by that. I was like, “Yeah, man. Absolutely. What’s going on.”
He says, “Well, me and my girlfriend just broke up. She just moved out of our apartment. And I just put a down payment down on a house. And I just found out yesterday that my blankety, blank landlord isn’t going to let me out of my apartment lease. And if he doesn’t let me out of my apartment lease, then I’m going to be financially in a really difficult spot. Would you pray that my blankety, blank landlord would let me out of my lease?”
And I was like, “I’d be happy to. Hey, what’s your name?”
He goes, “What does that matter?”
And I was like, “It doesn’t. It doesn’t.” So I started to pray. “God, would you please do something to let his landlord let him out of his lease.” And I forget what all I said about that situation. But while I had him, I just kind of snuck one in on him.
I said, “And, God, I don’t know my new friend’s name, and I don’t know what he’s going through, and I don’t know his past. And I don’t know where he stands with you, God, but I just pray that before the end of the year that he would come to know that he is loved by you and that he would come to meet your Son, Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Then I took a big step back because I didn’t know if he would come out swinging. But I looked at him and he had some mist in his eyes. I asked, “Hey, man. You alright?”
And he was like, “Man, these stupid allergies are killing me, man.” And he walked out.
The next Sunday, same deal. He comes in half way through the sermon, sits down, and I can’t get a read on him—if he’s happy or sad. I’m standing out in the lobby when he walks right up to me, no expression on his face. I’m bracing myself.
He comes right up and then he gets this huge smile; it was a smile that I would see so many times from that day forward. And he looks at me and he says, “Dude! My landlord let me out of my lease, man!”
And I was like, “Man, that’s awesome. That’s great.”
And then he goes, “Dude, God like listens to you, man. I’ve brought a list today.” And he whips it out and he’s like, “I need you to get me a new girlfriend, and I need you to get me a set of hair…”
And since he was in a good mood I was like, “Hey, man. What’s your name?”
“Eli, it’s good to meet you. I’m Aaron.” And I said, “Eli, do you have plans for lunch?”
We had lunch with him that afternoon, and then a couple of weeks later we invited him over to our home. Our kids were really, really little then. And we’re sitting around the table and he’s telling us his story about how he grew up in Hawaii in an abusive home and as soon as he was old enough to get out of there, he was out of there.
He served in the military for a while and then he got out. He’d been bouncing from job to job. And he’d been arrested a couple of times. In and out of multiple broken relationships. Had a little bit of Catholic faith from his upbringing but he’d been running from God for a really long time. And he was broken and he was depressed and he was lonely.
And I said, “Eli, we’d love to have you back every week.”
And he said, “Man, you just need to know that I’m not religious. I don’t think I’m worthy of it.”
So I said, “Well, Eli, every single Sunday I need somebody to pick up some chairs and move them from this side of the room to this side of the room.” I really didn’t. I just made it up so that he would come; I was looking for any excuse I could find.
And he did. He did that for weeks and months. And he would just go to lunch with us after church every week and we would just work on our relationship. He would hang out with us and go on hiking trips.
I will never forget the Wednesday afternoon when he just showed up in my office unannounced. He walked in and he slunk down in a chair and he dropped his head and he said, “Would you just tell me how to get it?”
I was like, “What are you talking about, man? Get what?”
He was like, “I’ve been hanging around you guys for like six months. Can you just tell me how to get what you have? I know you’re not perfect. I’ve been around you long enough to see that. But, man, you’re joyful and there just seems to be this strength. I don’t know where it comes from. Would you just tell me how to get it? What do I have to believe? I’ll believe it. What do I have to do? I’ll do it. Just give me the list and I’ll start working on it.”
And I said, “Eli, look at me, man. You don’t have to do anything. It’s not based on what you do. It’s based on what Jesus did for you.”
And I had the privilege that day of getting down on my knees with my brother and leading him to Christ. And he just broke down sobbing and gave his life to Jesus Christ. Then a couple of days later I got to baptize that brother in a hot tub, which is my favorite kind of baptistry.
And do you know where Eli is today and what he’s doing? Eli works on the streets of Sacramento, California, reaching out to teenage boys who come from abusive backgrounds. He’s trying to instill hope and a future for them because of the love of Jesus. And man, he wears that big ole smile across his big, bald head all of the time.
It’s not because of what he can bring to the table. Listen, Eli was a mess when he came to know Jesus. But he crossed that line of faith, and to see what Jesus has done in his life to grow him has been astounding.
If you haven’t crossed that line of faith yet, there are two questions that you just need to respond to. Here’s the first one:
Is Jesus the Son of God who died the death that you deserved to die so that you could live the life that you could never earn on your own? The word for that is Savior.
If the answer is yes, the next question:
Will you go where He tells you to go and do what He tells you to do? Yes or no? If the answer is yes to both of those things, God will open your heart and you’ll accept it.
And the response across all seven conversion accounts in the book of Acts when somebody did that was to be baptized, which means to be dunked under water and come back up. What it means is cleansing and a new birth.
It’s amazing to me how many people think that they’ve got to accomplish some things or get a bunch of faith before they can step into the waters of baptism. Baptism was never meant to be that way. Baptism was meant to be a starting line, not the finishing line of your faith. You are a spiritual infant when you come out of the waters of baptism.
I can’t think of a better time to get baptized than on Easter weekend. Your spiritual birthday would be on resurrection weekend. Man, that would be amazing.
(This is excerpted from a sermon which Aaron preached at Trader’s Point Christian Church on Easter Sunday 2019. Used with permission.)